Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Internet Film Class

So an article on io9 theorizes that fanboys are over in determining cinematic success. It's an idea that interests me for a number of reasons, yet I kind of disagree with where the article goes so let's discuss.

While the premise is interesting I disagree largely with how the article considers fanboys. Okay let me explain. In the article fanboys are the media intelligentsia, they people who care enough about genre films to review and discuss them and states that the tone of those discussions at the dawn of the 21st century was used by Hollywood as a barometer for the potential success of a project once it hit the mainstream, both in terms of immediate returns and pop-culture legacy.

And I kind of disagree with that statement which is the backbone of the article's later argument.

See for the past five years or so we've seen an increase in genre films. Later on the article cites examples( I will get to them in a bit) to prove that the success or failure of those genre films as of late is independent of fanboy reaction.

My view is that's not really true since the entire reason why those films are getting made is to cater to said fanboys.

Okay let's go back. My main beef if the view of these fanboys as the pop culture intelligentsia. In a way they are but not as you would normally expect.

Whenever any type of media reaches maturity, or the point where it has enough of a structure to be studied a distinction is made between the works that have enough meat for that task and those that don't, or the distinction between popular culture and classical culture.

Once that happens another problem arises, the dichotomy between the two.

Sure if you went to conservatory you were being taught.

But we all know a lot of the kids in the 50's were listening and practicing this.

And nobody in their right mind is going to say Chuck Berry and his impact on American and British music isn't worth being studied. Heck if you want go a little deeper there was a time when this didn't make the cut.

Yeah see way way back when opera was the pop music of its day now and trying to have that conversation with Mom always brings up the His Master's Voice look, though even that has its problems. And don't get me started on Broadway.

The problem with the "classical media" is who get's to join the club. For a long time genre film and literature not unlike rock and roll were considered ephemera.

See what determined "the cannon" was academic discussion leading to the drifting of popular personal tastes and academic ones.

Access was on of the primary reasons for this drift. Before the age of Netflix or even cable how many people would have been able to see The Bicycle Thieves without being in a film class.

And do you know how hard getting your hands on a hard copy of The Goddess is to this day. One of the criteria of both popular and classical schools is how much a film leaves you talking, but because of the structure of academia the pool of those films is larger for the classical school than the popular one that's somewhat the entire purpose of having a library or a museum. To preserve culture for academic consumption and discussion. But someone must act as curator.

But what happened is the advent of the internet changed that dynamic. From the acedimic perspective it's easier to find a lot of "The Cannon". Seriously go watch Bicycle Thieves on Netflix. Stop reading this and do it. I'll wait.

Back. Good.

But for the purpose of this essay I'll say the internet made everyone a curator. The ease of communication of the internet made conversations that would normally only happen in a film school possible on a forum, but any discussion of media is going to require common reference points which is one of the reasons for, "The Cannon" in the first place. A lot of film classes I took were structured so. Tuesday watch film, Thursday, discuss film, with exams, projects, essays and reading done in between.

Having a common piece to talk about while discussing mechanics was the point, same as when lit professors assign their reading lists. But that's not how things work on the internet.

On the internet the way it works is you find a movie you like enough to talk about and find people willing to do the same. All of a sudden instead of academically discussing Citizen Kane we were gabbing about what made Raiders of the Lost Ark good.

For another metaphor it's the difference between the discussion in class and the discussion in the dorm rooms. One of the big sticking points is that kids running the candy shop were a lot more willing to discuss genre films academically than their professors.

Again needed to facilitate an academic discussion is common reference pool, the old way of insuring that reference pool was to curate and preserve a cannon of film reserved for academic discussion but now people were using, "popular" media to facilitate it instead.

And genre films have always had a hard time cracking that case. People forget this but it was a damn near miracle that Lucas finished Star Wars let alone made it a success. Heck even the cast and crew thought it would never work, including Alec (Obi-Wan) Guinness. Of course it didn't help that he was filming in a desert.

The biggest point I want to make is that we're in a weird state in critism where the dynamic between pop culture, classical culture and media critism is changing.

And all of that is stuff I made up on the spot, the thing that got me up a three in the morning were the examples used for the articles later point that the fanboys were no longer running the show.  First it uses rise and fall of The Matrix, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost to point to the influence of critics. The problem I have with that is particularly the first two a good chunk of those still hold up. Most of the people I discuss The Matrix with for example generally agree that while the second two films aren't as good as the first, the original is still a classic of science-fiction. The same could be said about Battlestar's miniseries. On their own those two can be and are still are satisfactorily studied.

Lost is a bit more complicated since it failed its purpose of making it all come together, which was the reason most people were watching. But those other two had a lot more going for them especially in their early installments.

But then again all of that doesn't matter in the larger argument. What does though is flash controversy and the postulate that flash controversies that in the past greatly influenced the direction of projects is being ignored. I would say that those flash controversies are the least influential thing about modern internet movie culture.

The big picture is that due to that culture we are now in a place where we can have a serious film discussion about how a studio managed to make the movie fans have been waiting 70 years for when for almost the entirety of that duration conventional wisdom said the industry would mad to pump money into it because it wouldn't be taken seriously, and most of the actors would stay the hell away from it in fear it would hurt their careers.

Or to put it another way.

This the Cap I got and my Dad wanted since childhood.

But this is the one he had to put up with.

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